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Recovery

The blind spot in many service delivery systems is that they fail even to anticipate that something can go wrong. In production management, allowance is made for breakage, spoilage, duds, and units that simply don't meet the specs. Some of this bad product can be flagged through quality control before it ever reaches a customer. For product that fails in the field, there are repair facilities and service technicians.
Service systems, on the other hand, are too often managed as though anything other than perfection is inconceivable. Very few businesses address the redress of service errors in a preplanned, systematic fashion. The attitude seems to be, "Don't even mention it. Talking about service problems as if they can happen is likely to cause them!" Yet customers make as many mistakes as the people serving them do. (The idea that the customer is always right is wrong. You simply treat the customer as if he or she is right in those instances.)
Even if the company never flubs its lines, there will be times when needs and expectations fail to mesh to everyone's satisfaction. In those cases, it's crucial to address customer problems and service delivery glitches as quickly and as completely as possible, When the unexpected but unavoidable occurs, the Service 101 are ready, willing, and able to swing into action. They work as hard when things go wrong as they do to make things go right the first time out.
The word for that is "recovery." It originated with Donald Porter of British Airways, based on that newly privatized airline's initial efforts to understand customer expectations after years of operating as a government run entity: "It had never occurred to us in any concrete way. 'Recovery' was the term we coined to describe a very frequently repeated concern: If something goes wrong, as it often does, will anybody make a special effort to set it right? Will someone go out of his or her way to make amends to the customer? Does anybody make an effort to offset the negative effects of a screw-up? Does anyone even know where, when, or how to deliver a simple apology?"
The word is a good one. It connotes an effort to return things to a normal state, to make whole again. Most organizations have the traditional service department --a group charged with fixing what breaks. That is a reactive and very minimal kind of recovery. More than damage control, a good recovery system is a positive, managed effort to attack a problem so thoroughly and wholeheartedly that there will be no possibility the customer might walk away discouraged, disappointed, or wishing he had never gotten involved with us in the first place.
Is it worth it? Data compiled by TARP is compelling. Its National Consumer Survey, conducted for the United States Office of Consumer Affairs, found that resolving problems quickly and efficiently had a positive impact on customer loyalty. Consumers who had problems, complained, and had their problems satisfactorily resolved were more likely to be "brand loyal" than consumers without problems, and significantly more loyal than customers who experienced problems but failed to register a complaint. Even in instances when the complaint was not resolved in their favor, nearly half of the customers who made the effort and were listened to indicated that they would give the offending company another try. Working to normalize relations with an unhappy customer is one of the highest-impact activities a service organization can undertake.
Building an effective service recovery system begins with two things: knowing the customer's expectations, and understanding what the service breakdown looks and feels like from the customer's viewpoint. There are two distinct levels to the latter: annoyance and victimization.
Annoyance is the minor feeling of irritation we get when the service experience falls slightly short of what we expected. Victimization is a more serious breakdown, and engenders a major feeling of ire, frustration, or pain. Recovery takes a different form depending on whether the customer feels annoyed or victimized. The difference between the two is easy to see from specific examples.

* When your flight is one hour late, you are annoyed. When being one hour late causes you to miss the last connection to your destination and you have to sleep in the airport overnight, you have been victimized.
* When one of your two phones is out of service, you are annoyed. When your only phone is out of service and you have a heart condition, you feel victimized.
* When your car breaks down and you have to ride to work with a neighbor, you're annoyed, When you are a traveling salesperson and the car breaks down because the repair shop, for the third time, failed to fix a problem, and now you're going to miss several previously scheduled calls on very short notice, you have been victimized.

Central to the difference between annoyance and victimization is the way the customer feels about the breakdown. When the customer is left dependent rather than merely inconvenienced, and truly angry rather than mildly irritated, you are dealing with a victim. Any service breakdown will require the deliverer to jump through a few hoops to get the customer back to neutral. More hoops are required to correct victimization than annoyance.
A sequence of as many as five ingredients are involved in effective recovery. The first two are imperative for annoyed customers; all five are required for working with customers who feel victimized.
Apology. Recovery absolutely demands some acknowledgment of error immediately following a breakdown in service. If the flight from Denver to Dallas is more than an hour late taking off, yet the flight attendant makes the standard FAA speech and the pilot comes on the intercom to announce the altitude with no mention of the lateness, you begin to wonder whether the airline is so accustomed to being late that its people treat it as normal.
Apology is more powerful when delivered in the first person. A corporate "We're sorry" lacks the sincerity and authenticity that comes when a person takes responsibility and acknowledges on behalf of the organization that the customer was mistreated.
Urgent Reinstatement. Because both the outcome and the process of service delivery must be managed, a sense of urgency is important even when things go as planned. It has new, more critical meaning when applied to recovery. Sometimes, an expression of gallant intent is sufficient, but the customer must perceive that the deliverer is doing the best job possible to get things back into balance without delay. There are points for good intentions and customer-driven effort. Part of the power of this ingredient is the demonstration that the deliverer has the customer's interests at heart.
If the customer is annoyed, apology and urgent reinstatement, done well, are likely to return things to normal. If the customer has been victimized, recovery is more complex, and the following three ingredients must be added to the recipe.
Empathy. Expressing compassion may be the mother lode of all service gold. Victimized customers are likely to insist that before you attempt to redress their views or feelings you first demonstrate that you understand them. Empathy is the expression of "I know how you must feel --I care about you --I can relate to your misfortune-- I can identify with what has happened." In its highest form, the customer feels heard, affirmed, cared about.
Sincere expressions of empathy are quite different from expressions of sympathy. Sympathy occurs when one shares another's pain. Empathy is showing compassion for the person in pain without feeling that pain personally --it's a shoulder to cry on, a source of strength. There are great risks with sympathy because the helper joins the helpee rather than the other way around. Those who resort to sympathy are themselves "onedown" and prove the axiom misery loves company, Where sympathy is helping someone feel better about being weak, empathy is the kind of understanding that helps them feel strong again.
A Hawaiian woman who spoke limited English was en route to Roanoke, Virginia, recently to visit her daughter. After six thousand miles, eighteen hours, and four stops, she got to Charlotte, North Carolina, only to learn that the Roanoke airport was closed due to snow and ice. On her last leg of the journey, and now only one hour from her destination, she was informed she would have to stay the night in Charlotte. A Piedmont Airlines gate attendant made all the arrangements, called her daughter for her, then sat with her for a while, asking the woman questions about Hawaii and her daughter. As tears welled up in the woman's eyes, the gate attendant spontaneously embraced her and said, "You've come so far, I know you really want to see her." The woman smiled through her tears and said, "I'm glad you are my friend."
The apology tells the victimized customer that it matters there was a breakdown; empathy adds that it matters that a person was hurt in the process. A wise service expert once said, "When service fails, first treat the person, then the problem."
Symbolic Atonement. The fourth ingredient in the recovery recipe is some symbol of atonement. At its most basic level, it is a gesture that clearly says, "We want to make it up to you." Atonement is not a pound of flesh. The symbol or gesture is the key. It's the "It's on us --no charge-- here's a coupon" type of demonstration.
Our colleague Chip Bell tells of walking into a crowded fast-food restaurant for a sandwich, small fries, and soft drink to take back to his office. When he placed the order, he was told it would take about three minutes for the sandwich. It was noon, lines were long, some delay was acceptable. But as the minutes stretched to nearly ten, he grew increasingly impatient.
Eventually the order was ready and service recipient came eyeball to eyeball with the provider. Before he could vent his anger, the cashier was already in tune with his feelings. "I'm very sorry," she offered. "I know you were in a hurry. I gave you a large order of fries because you had to wait. I hope you'll come back again." Apology, urgent reinstatement, empathy, symbolic atonement --right out of the recovery textbook. That kind of performance is no accident. The system was designed, the employees trained, for the eventuality of a breakdown. 'Me cashier, Chip adds, invariably with an expression of awe, was all of seventeen years old.
Follow-up. This last ingredient may or may not be critical to quality service when the customer is only annoyed. The data are mixed. It is unequivocally important if the customer is a victim. Not only does it provide a sense of closure, it serves to affirm the authenticity of the recovery response and provides a means of feedback.
Properly managed, follow-up also can be a tool to promote the self esteem of the service deliverer. The frontline person who takes a beating when things go wrong can walk away feeling good as a result of follow-up. "We may have messed up, but things are okay now."
Not long ago, we met up with Chip Bell on our way to check in at the Long Wharf Marriott in Boston. He couldn't wait to tell us about the recovery process he'd just observed at the hotel's front desk. A traveler had been attempting to check in, only to be told that the hotel was overbooked and no room was available for him.
"I'm sorry," Chip had heard the manager on the desk explain. "We're overbooked, and even though you have a reservation, I'm afraid we don't have a room for you this evening. I know this isn't acceptable, and we apologize for it. What I've done is taken the liberty of making a reservation for you at a hotel near here. Just take this card to the front desk at the Parker House. They're expecting you. I know you're upset. I would be too in your place. But I hope you'll find the accommodations there as acceptable as here. And here's ten dollars. That should cover the cab ride over there, plus the tip."
Hardly mollified, the guest had taken the note and the cash and walked away muttering to himself. Chip, however, had stuck around, so he saw an already good example recovery extended to include follow-up. As the disgruntled traveler walked out to the cab stand, the desk manager turned to an associate and said, "He doesn't look like he's very happy with us yet. Give him about fifteen minutes to get over there, get registered, and up to his room. Then call him up and ask him if the accommodations arc acceptable. While you're at it, invite him to come back tomorrow morning and have breakfast, as our guest, on our concierge level. Tell him we'll leave an envelope in his name with the concierge with a note for the hostess at the restaurant. That ought to do it."
We don't know if it did for that particular traveler. But it did for us. That's because when we walked up to the desk and asked for the room reserved in our name, the manager gave us a professional smile and said, "I'm sorry. We're overbooked this evening, and even though you have a reservation, I'm afraid we don't have a room. I know this isn't acceptable, and we apologize for it. What I've done is taken the liberty of making a reservation for you at the Parker House . . . " We let him work his way through the whole recovery process, and we were just as impressed when we were the object of the effort as we had been when we'd heard about it happening to somebody else.

A final note: Complaints are an asset when they are handled well. TARP's data clearly supports a well-designed, conscientious recovery effort. It also suggests, however, that a poor or grudging recovery effort may be worse than no effort at all. In the words of the study's authors, "Some companies handle complaints so poorly that they would be better off not soliciting complaints." In these cases, they note, doubly dissatisfied customers indicate less inclination to patronize a business again than those who suffered the first breakdown in silence.

Short Quote:

"Consumers who had problems, complained, and had their problems satisfactorily resolved were more likely to be 'brand loyal' than consumers without problems, and significantly more loyal than customers who experienced problems but failed to register a complaint." --Rom Zemke, citing the TARP Study
Copyright 1995, 2016, HP Management Decisions Ltd., All Rights Reserved.


Author:Zemke, Ron with Dick Schaaf
Title:The Service Edge
Periodical:
Volume:
Number:
Publisher:NAL Books
Place (City):New York
Publication Date:1989
Pages:pp. 21-26
Source Type:Book
Quote Number:26
Categories:Customer Service